A MAJOR row has broken out within Liberal Party ranks in the region over accusations a group of Young Liberals who reside outside of Cessnock have blocked Liberal councillors in the town from setting up another party branch.
It is understood the NSW Liberal Party head office and its state executive are aware of the dispute but have failed to intervene despite the sidelining for months of its own elected Cessnock City Councillors Bryce Gibson, Cordelia Burcham and Rod Doherty.
The matter came to a head yesterday, with a stinging email from Cr Gibson to Cessnock-Hunter Young Liberal branch president Jason Hickson in which he accused Mr Hickson of being a ‘‘faceless man’’ and his branch of undermining elected representatives.
In the email, also sent to Hunter and Central Coast Liberal councillors and obtained by the Newcastle Herald, Mr Gibson writes; ‘‘after living in a labour [sic] town all my life I know branch stacking when I see it ’’.
The Young Liberals branch was established last year amid controversy, after the state executive used its special powers to quietly set it up.
The matter was put before the executive by its member Simon Fontana, also the president of the NSW Young Liberals and a staffer to Community Services minister Pru Goward.
Factional opponents labelled it a grab for influence, and a challenge to right-wing heavyweight and Police and Hunter minister Mike Gallacher.
Because it is the only Liberal branch in the state seat, the Cessnock-Hunter Young Liberals hold two state council votes and would help to preselect party candidates. It must also approve any new branch in the area.
The councillors have sought the approval since October, but have had no response from the branch nor head office.
‘‘We elected Liberals of Cessnock live in this community, we fight the liberal fight every day in the Labor heart land but the young Liberals are nowhere to be seen,’’ Cr Gibson wrote.
Mr Hickson hung up the phone when contacted by the Herald.